I’m at IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Cleveland this week, and was lucky to catch two sessions this morning from JRI (Jewish Records Indexing) Poland. If you aren’t familiar with JRI Poland, they are the go-to site for Jewish genealogy in Poland, with more than 5 million records covering more than 1,000 towns and villages in Poland, many of which no longer exist. In the first session, Stanley Diamond talked about what’s happening with JRI Poland, and their plans to upgrade their systems to make it more useful, but perhaps more importantly, scalable.
Next, I went to a talk by Michael Tobias about Congress Poland Records. Michael Tobias, who is from Scotland, was their database guy at JRI Poland’s inception, but is also an avid researcher himself.
Today’s session covered the records from Congress Poland, the area also known as Russian Poland, or the Kingdom of Poland. Congress Poland includes the following gubernias: Kalisz, Kielce, Lomza, Lublin, Piotrkow, Plock, Radom, Siedce, Suwalki (now in Ukraine), and Warszawa. This, of course, includes my ancestral town of Przedbórz. Michael is a great speaker (the accent doesn’t hurt), so I was delighted to hear him talking about “my” region.
Here are a few highlights from Michael’s talk:
Congress Poland records are…
- In Polish from 1826 to 1868
- Russian Cyrillic from 1868 to 1917
- In Polish from 1917 onwards
Records from Congress Poland are usually in narrative format (so hard to read), but once you are familiar with them it becomes easier to identify the important bits.
Before 1826 Jewish records were mixed with Catholic records, after 1825 they were kept separately. There are mixed records available from about 1808 onward, however, Jews in Congress Poland did not start using surnames until 1821, so in the earlier records it can be difficult (but not impossible) to identify to your family.
When searching archives and documents, there are several ways to look for Jewish records. Seeing signatures in Yiddish is a clear giveaway. Others are identified by the following words:
- Mojzeszowego – “of the faith of Moses”
- Zydowski – Jew by nationality
- Boznicego – synagogue
- Starozakonnych – Orthodox Jew
There are two sets of Jewish records in Congress Poland, the “Unikat” (original) records, which are books that synagogues kept. Depending on the size of the town, one book could contain a partial year or several decades of records. The “Duplikat” books were a second set that were required to be sent in to the authorities each year. Although most people believe that the records are identical, that’s not actually the case. Because the Unikat books were kept at the synagogue, they can contain updates or corrections added at a later date, while the Duplikat books were frozen in time when they were submitted to the state. Thus, it’s worth trying to look at both sets if you can get your hands on them.
Michael also suggested trying to find the Book of Residents Register for your town, which is another record that is not static; they were updated as new births, marriages, and deaths happened. On my family register in Przedbórz, the exact date the family moved from Przedbórz proper to the nearby village of Rączki is recorded, along with the standard dates of birth and parents’ names. Even more interesting, though, was finding mentions of fines and other petty crimes that my apparently rapscallion ancestors committed.
Michael also mentioned how important it is to not confine yourself to your direct line, but to also research the brothers and sisters of your ancestors, because this is often an easy way to fill in missing information. Of course I would recommend also researching your ancestors’ in-laws, neighbors, and fourth cousins twice removed, but that’s another talk for another time.
You can catch Michael speaking on the Jews of Scotland on Thursday – recommended!